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Historical Research

Meredith Bond

I don’t think there could be anything more enjoyable than writing a historical novel. Honestly! Actually, it’s not just writing the novel. Writing the novel isn’t the most fun part (I’m a little embarrassed to admit). It’s the research.

Doing research is definitely the best part of writing historical novels. I’ve got a whole bookshelf filled with books on the Regency. I’ve gone to England and walked the gardens of grand estates and royal parks. I’ve walked through houses which were lived in by the aristocracy of the Regency. It’s amazing to feel the history there.

Buying vegetables in Kolkata

I had a great time doing research in Kolkata when I was gathering information for An Exotic Heir, as well. Travelling around Kolkata, walking through the Victoria Memorial’s museum which gives a wonderfully thorough history of the city. Reading diaries of the English who lived in Calcutta during the Regency period. All that history! And then it struck me, as I accompanied my mother-in-law to the bazaar one morning to buy fish and vegetables, vendors have been hawking their wares in bazaars in exactly the same way for over 250 years! Yes. When you go to buy vegetables, they are frequently laid out on the ground on banana leaves just as they have been for hundreds of years. Sellers still weight the fruits and vegetables using hand-held scales dropping weights on one side to balance the precariously heaped vegetables on the other. There are only two adaptations which I have seen – bare electric light bulbs which are strung up in the evenings (although not all sellers have them, some still sell by candle light) and the cell phone which is tucked away under the seller’s legs because everybody has cell phones in India!

Now, while this is all great fun, finding out how people lived, reading about the political tensions of the day and how different people related to one another (Indians to English to Anglo-Indians, in particular), what do you do with all that information? You can just drop it into your manuscript! Your novel will read like a history

St. Paul's Cathedral, Kolkata

book.

No, it is the saddest part of historical research that you have to sprinkle it in delicately like the hottest chili peppers into a curry. You don’t want to overwhelm the taste of the dish by dumping in a lot of spice – you just want a flavor to add a little zing. So you describe a dress here, a table there, show how people act toward one another – whether it be turning one’s back on someone deemed undesirable (as many of the English did with Anglo-Indians), or welcoming them warmly (as they did at other times in history – isn’t that confusing! You’ve got to pick your decades carefully because the English swung back and forth in their acceptance of the native Indians and the people of mixed-blood).

So, enjoy your research. Let it infuse your writing with color, sounds and smells, but keep the descriptions light because a heavy hand will spoil the dish, er, novel.

Merry
 

Meredith Bond is an award-winning author of a series of traditionally published Regency romances and indie-published paranormal romances. Known for her characters “who slip readily into one’s heart,” Meredith’s heart belongs to her husband and two children. Meredith’s second favorite pastime is teaching others to write.

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